Police & Fire

Man subjected to racist slurs and hostile environment at Puritan, lawsuit says

By Marie Weidmayer, Bangor Daily News Staff

A Maine company failed to help and retaliated against a Black and Hispanic employee who was subjected to a year of racist insults, a lawsuit filed last week said.

While working at Puritan Medical Products in Pittsfield, Dupreme Ammonds was called racial slurs and insulted in various ways by co-workers, while management did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit filed May 20 in U.S. District Court in Bangor said.

The suit said Ammonds was subjected to a hostile work environment and was retaliated against for reporting issues, which is against federal and state law. By allowing the discrimination and retaliation, Puritan “constructively discharged” Ammonds from his job, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and unspecified damages for the harassment Ammonds allegedly experienced at Puritan, which is headquartered in Guilford and was one of the top manufacturers of medical swabs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While Puritan does not comment on pending cases, we deny violating the law and we look forward to defending ourselves before the court,” Puritan Marketing Director Virginia Templet

said. “Puritan does not tolerate inappropriate conduct in the workplace, and we remain fully committed to providing an appropriate workplace for all.”

Ammonds filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which issued a right to sue notice in February, the lawsuit said.

In January 2021, Ammonds started working at the Pittsfield location of Puritan Medical Products. By February, a co-worker asked him if his hair grows into a “Michael Jackson afro everywhere,” and then asked if the hair in his armpits, genitals and chest grow in that style, the lawsuit said.

Co-workers and Ammonds’ supervisor made numerous comments about stereotypes of Black people’s genitals, as well as asking if he went to Africa when he stepped away for a minute, according to the lawsuit.

Ammonds reported the comments to Puritan’s human resources department and multiple higher ups, who dismissed it because the supervisor was new, the lawsuit said. This showed Ammonds his complaints would not be taken seriously, according to the suit.

One person stuck two fingers in his back as a pretend gun and said “just in case you miss home,” the lawsuit said. Another co-worker would call Ammonds his “little monkey” and make comments about how Black women should be picking cotton.

After months of Ammonds reporting the harassment without any actions taken against the people who made the comments, human resources sent home the worst offender for the rest of the day, but he was allowed to return the next day, the lawsuit said. 

When the man returned, he shoved Ammonds from behind while he was working and then used a string of “vitriolic racist comments,” according to the lawsuit. That finally led to the man being fired, but the harassment escalated because the fired man was popular with other co-workers, the lawsuit said.

Four co-workers complained together about the harassment Ammonds was experiencing, but they were told further complaints would be met with immediate termination, according to the lawsuit.

In April 2022, Ammonds started seeing a therapist, who recommended a leave of absence from Puritan, which he took. He was later diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety following the harassment, the suit said.

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